Coping with an opponent's exotic opening bids:

Opener is weak

(denies standard 1-level opening strength)

Gordon Bower

C Forcing, no known suit
D Forcing, known suit
H Nonforcing, known suit
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General ideas defending weak openings

There is one basic principle to remember. On any one deal, only one side or the other, not both, can preempt. If opener preempts, your jumps are no longer weak. They show specific strong hands.

Consider a a Standard American weak 2H opening. What is the difference between overcalling 2S, doubling for takeout and then bidding spades at your next turn, and jumping to 3S or 4S immediately? For starters, just as over a 1-bid, doubling and then bidding your own suit shows a powerful hand, too strong for a simple overcall. Over a 1-bid the minimum to double first is roughly 17HCP; at the 2-level, where you won't be making simple overcalls on 8 points and a decent 5-card suit, that limit will be slightly higher.

But what's the difference between doubling and bidding spades vs. jumping in spades immediately? The treatment I prefer in my regular partnerships is not universal, but I have found it effective. An immediate jump in a new suit says, "This suit will be trump, and I am within one trick of making this contract. Look just at your trump honours and your side aces and ace-kings, and decide how high you want to raise me." Advancer can raise or cue-bid. If, on the other hand, you want your partner to look more at his overall strength, and not just at his aces and trumps, doubled first, then bid your suit, showing a hand that will benefit from general strength in advancer's hand, not just specific cover cards. For example, over a weak 2H, I would double and then bid spades with SAQJ84 HK2 DAJ4 CAJ9, since my partner's kings and queens are worth tricks to me, but jump to 3S immediately with SAK98765 H2 DKQJ CT8, telling partner to look only at his aces and the QJ of spades.

Discuss with your partner what a cuebid of the opponent's suit means after a 2- or 3-level opening in front of you. If 1H-2H is Michaels, is 2H-3H still Michaels? If 1H-3H asks partner to bid 3NT with a heart stopper, does 2H-3H ask the same thing? My preference is to use the cuebid as Michaels over natural preempts.

A common expert alternative to my use of cuebids and jump shifts is called "Leaping Michaels," using two of the jump shifts to show specific strong two-suiters. Over a weak 2D opening, 3D would show the majors, 3H hearts and clubs, and 3S spades and clubs.

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Specific suggestions after a
forcing opening that does not promise any specific suit

Beware that any weak bid, however "forcing" it is in principle, may in fact be dropped unexpectedly by responder if he is weak and happens to have length in opener's suit. You can still adopt a "pass first with very strong hands" approach, but there are two hazards with this. One, the small risk of not getting a second chance; two, the considerably larger risk that the bidding will be bounced uncomfortably high by further preemption before you get to bid again. Opposite almost all weak bids not showing a specific suit, responder has some means of bouncing the bidding when he has a hand that caters to more than one of opener's hand types. For instance, after a Multicoloured 2D showing a weak two-bid in either major, a weak responder can bid 3H if he has 3-card support for both majors, letting opener pass 3H with hearts or correct to 3S with spades.

Also beware of the additional bidding space which you give opener's side with your cheapest actions. Doubling, in particular, can give the opening side a chance to escape in a cheap contract they never could have stopped in without your interference. This makes it particularly important that doubler has values in the suit he doubles artificially, in case he is called upon to defend that doubled contract.

You need to have a way to bid every suit, since opener has not promised any one suit.

Multicoloured 2D

This is the most common convention in this category. A Multi 2D opening can show a weak two-bid in either major. Some pairs play "mini-multi," allowing only these two hand types; others also use 2D to show various types of strong hands. Most commonly included are 20+ HCP balanced hands, and strong 4-4-4-1 hands. In each case, responder assumes opener has the least desirable hand type, and waits to be proven wrong by a surprise encouraging rebid. The strong options are so rare that, for all practical purposes, you can defend Multi and Mini-Multi the same way, always assuming opener is weak.

Wilkosz 2D

As common in Eastern Europe as the Multicoloured 2D is in Britain and Western Europe, the Wilkosz 2D shows any of several weak two-suited hands. Some people allow just the four major-minor two-suiters, others also allow 5-5 in the majors. You can defend Wilkosz the same way as Multi, with a few additional twists: there is much more risk they will try to play in 2D if you double, and you know not one but two of your suits are going to break unevenly if you declare.

I use the same fairly simple defence against both Multi and Wilkosz:

After 2D-Pass-2H or 2S, fourth hand's double is takeout (but might be converted), other bids natural. Similarly, second hand can double for takeout after 2D-Pass-2H-Pass-Pass or 2S. After 2D-X-Pass, fourth hand can only pass over Wilkosz if he is willing to defend 2DX if opener has 5 diamonds and passes. With a minimum and short diamonds, fourth hand will bid! 2H, 2S, 2NT, and 3C are all natural and nonforcing. 3D can be used to ask doubler to pick a major, if you are willing to pass 2DX any time you have diamond length.

There are many other more complicated defences to these openings (using X for 2-suiters including diamonds and 2NT for 2-suiters not including diamonds, or using 2M to show 4 of the bid suit and 5 of something else, for example.) If you like exotic science, feel free to experiment -- but if you like exotic science, you probably aren't here reading a primer on coping with other people's weird opening bids!

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Specific suggestions after a
forcing opening that promises a specific suit

Defending against an opening is much easier if opener has promised a long suit: you have a cuebid of opener's suit available to use the same way you use a takeout double of a natural preempt. In fact, for three well-known conventions that fall in this category, that's really all you need to know!

Rubin Two-Bids have the 2-way flavour of Multicoloured 2D, but only one weak meaning per call: a 2C opening is either weak with diamonds, or various strong hands; a 2D opening is either weak with hearts, or various strong hands; and so on. As with Multi, the strong hand types are rare. Double to show an "overcall" in the artificially bid suit; bid the suit opener actually has as a "takeout double"; otherwise bid naturally.

Bergen Two-Under Preempts are slightly more complicated. 2D shows a weak two-bid in spades; 2S shows a preempt in clubs; 2NT shows a preempt in diamonds, and so on. Responder can use the step in between to ask opener to describe his hand further. The same defence is still workable.

Namyats, much more widely used than Bergen or Rubin, is also a kind of Two-Under Preempt: a 4C or 4D opening to show a solid heart or spade suit, respectively. Discuss with your partner whether the cue-bid is a 3-suit takeout or is Michaels, promising the other major and just one of the minors.

More complicated defenses exist, that make it harder for the opening side to exploit the extra space you offer their side if you double or overcall cheaply, but given how rarely you will face these methods almost anywhere in the world, I doubt it is worth your trouble to develop and memorize them.

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Specific suggestions after a
nonforcing opening that promises a specific suit

The defence against an conventional call promising the bid suit plus another suit is essentially the same as against a natural opening. The simplest defence to an opening like Muiderberg 2H showing a weak hand with hearts and a minor is to use the same methods as you do over a standard weak two-bid in hearts.

My recommendations vs. weak twos are simple:

One popular additional convention I recommend is Lebensohl after a takeout double of a weak two. Like Lebensohl after a 1NT Opening, the principle is to clarify responder's strength better in exchange for giving up a natural invitational NT bid. If doubler's partner bids 2NT, doubler must call again -- 3C with any minimum hand or average double, anything else with such a powerhouse he is interested in game even opposite a weak partner.

After 2H - Double - Pass:

Lebensohl over weak twos is only for established partnerships with good memories, but in the right hands, it gains much more than it gives away.

Calls promising only 4 cards in the bid suit are a bit harder to defend against. You can treat them the same way as weak twos too, but you will occasionally lose a good fit for your side when your side has 8 or 9 cards in opener's bid suit. You may prefer to treat a convention like the Ekrens 2H, promising just 4-4 in the majors, as if it does not promise any specific suit at all and use the Wilkosz/Multi defence above. If you do so, be aware of the increased likelihood that responder will try to escape in opener's first bid suit.

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Specific suggestions after a
nonforcing opening that does not promise a specific suit

On the surface it sounds like there can be no such convention. But the Gambling 3NT is a common such convention. Opener promises a solid minor suit, either one -- and if responder has three suits stopped, obviously the one he doesn't have is the one his partner has, and he can safely pass out 3NT, expecting to score one or two of his stoppers plus run seven or eight tricks in partner's minor. Responder with a weak hand can also pass out 3NT, willing to go down several tricks undoubled as a sacrifice against your side's likely game, escaping to 4 of a minor if 3NT gets doubled for penalty.

The defending side needs a mechanism to be able to double 3NT for penalty, to stop opener's side from stealing the hand cheaply in this way. There are two ways to do this: use double to show both majors, expecting partner to pass if he has the minors stopped, or use double as penalty, allowing partner to pull the double if he has a 6-card major and would rather try for game.

For simplicity's sake I recommend treating a Gambling 3NT opening the same way you treat a natural 4C or 4D preemptive opening.

The Kantar 3NT works about the same way as the Gambling 3NT, but opener's solid suit is always a major. It is much rarer for responder to pass 3NT instead of playing 4 of a major, but still possible. Opener's side is more likely to become declarer, though, because they can bid 4H or 4S over your 4C or 4D overcall, instead of having to sell out or compete to the 5-level. Again, I suggest suit bids are natural, and double can be either takeout or penalty, matching whatever you do over 4-level openings.

Finally there is one other weak bid not promising a suit, which you are unlikely to ever meet: the "fert" 1-level opening. There are bidding systems in which Pass promises 8 or more points, and all 0-7HCP hands must make some other bid (most commonly 1D.) These so-called "forcing pass systems" are disallowed in almost all countries except in long team matches where you have time to study your opponents' system notes and prepare a detailed defence.

If you are playing in a world championship, you will of course do your homework and prepare a thorough defence to this type of system; but if you meet such a pair practicing at an online bridge site and choose to play against them, an adaptation of the Wilkosz/Multi defence (double = semibalanced 11-14 with opener's suit or any 19+, 1NT = 15-18, new suits natural, jumps strong) is better than being caught completely unprepared.

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©2002-03 Gordon Bower - Last updated 05.08.03